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The Bucs have to hand it to Oben

It looked like the world's largest debutante glove: long, white and with an upward arc at the fingers to give it a sense of refinement and formality.

Just the opposite was true.

The cast Roman Oben wore Sunday to protect two broken bones in his right hand had nothing to do with style. It was a testament to toughness. A statement of fact, not fashion.

"I was going to play no matter what," Oben said.

The defending Super Bowl champions are beset by injury. Four starters have missed games; two are lost for the season. Oben, the Bucs' starting left tackle, broke his hand during practice Oct. 23. Three days later, he ignored the pain to play in a 16-0 victory against the Cowboys.

Sunday, he'll do it again.

"He's the leader of this offensive line," right tackle Kenyatta Walker said. "You've got a broken hand, you've got to play on this offensive line. That's how he set the standard. When you've got toughness coming from your leader, it can't do anything but trickle down."

Oben, an eighth-year pro, is the Bucs' most experienced lineman. Since earning a starting job in his second season with the Giants, who drafted him in the third round in 1996, Oben has started all but three games. He has never missed a start because of injury.

Never.

Sunday was his 100th.

"I don't want my hand to be the weekly story here," Oben said. "It's part of the deal. People say, "Would you break your hand and go to work the next day?' This is football. This isn't working at IBM. You have to play with injury sometimes and play with discomfort. Sometimes, you have to put an extra brick on your wagon and just keep pulling it."

Oben, a quick and athletic blocker at 6 feet 4, 305 pounds, protects quarterback Brad Johnson's blind side, charged with blocking the opponent's most talented pass rusher. Optimally, it is not a job you would do with a broken hand.

"He did all right," coach Jon Gruden said. "He was inhibited big time with that brace he was wearing. It's hard to play left tackle with a whole healthy body. To play with one arm is probably asking a little too much.

"We're going to try to be a little bit more creative with the cast that he wears this week and try to help him out where he can perform more like he's capable of. But he battles hard. I give him a great amount of credit. He's a high-character guy, a tough guy who gives us everything."

This weekend, Oben is matched against right end Charles Grant, a first-round draft pick in 2002. Grant moved into the starting lineup as a rookie and has 13 career sacks, six this season.

Though footwork is the key to staying balanced and keeping a body between the pass rusher and the quarterback, hands come in handy. For Oben, the right hand is the inside hand.

"Having your right hand broken, that puts you in a pretty awkward position because that's your inside hand," guard/tackle Kerry Jenkins said. "That's the worst place to get beat is inside, because that's the shortest distance to the quarterback. Obviously, a broken hand, that's about as bad as you can get. For Roman to be able to battle through that and help us get a win on Sunday, that's awesome."

Jenkins should know.

Last season, Jenkins played with a fractured fibula, the nonweight bearing bone in the leg, and a cracked orbital, the facial bone around the eye.

"I like to think that offensive linemen are a special breed; of course, that's my biased opinion," Jenkins said. "That's always been the image associated with good offensive linemen. You have to be tough and be able to handle and play through injuries."

Oben agrees.

He would just as soon everyone stop fussing about his broken hand.

"I don't want to focus on the negative things of what I can't do because of my hand being broken," he said. "I'm just playing with it and doing the best I can. Whether or not people are impressed, it's really not up to me. I'm just a football player.

"I go out there to help my team win."

A role that fits him like a glove.

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